For her latest cookbook, James Beard winner Lidia Bastianich decided to revisit her roots. In "Felidia: Recipes from My Flagship Restaurant," the chef shared the dishes that shot her to fame on the American culinary scene for the very first time.
"We opened Felidia in 1981, and that's where I became a young chef. I started there," Chef Lidia recalled in an interview with Salon TV earlier this year. "Even though we had restaurants before, I was not the chef."
Nearly four decades have passed since the iconic Italian restaurant from Manhattan's tony Upper East Side neighborhood first opened its doors. To put Chef Lidia's unparalleled success into perspective, a majority of restaurants in the country's most competitive food scene close within five years.
Chef Lidia shared five recipes from her beautiful cookbook with Salon Food. From a frozen peach bellini, to ragù alla bolognese to tiramisù, each of these recipes will bring the flavors of Italy into the comfort of your own home. If you can't take a vacation, it's time to make one.
One recipe that has been a part of Felidia since its inception is Chef Lidia's pasta primavera, which she calls "a great restaurant dish." Executive Chef Fortunato Nicotra continues the tradition in 2020.
"Primavera. First of all, it means spring. So one would think of all the spring elements, which is the peas, and the string beans, and the zucchini and the zucchini flowers," Chef Lidia told Salon as she explained how the dish is traditionally prepared. "So you choose whatever the fruit of the spring was. We call them the primizia — the 'first fruits.'"
The kid-friendly recipe won the hearts of her two children. As Chef Lidia writes in her new book, "It's a favorite of Tanya and Joe, who grew up at Felidia and spent many hours there doing homework and having meals with family and friends while I was busy working in the kitchen or greeting clients."
What makes this pasta a crowd-pleaser? A little bit of garlic and oil, butter and grated grana padano cheese.
"It's one way of getting the kids to eat some vegetables, because if you sauté the vegetables enough — and with onions — they become sweet," Chef Lidia told Salon. "And then, of course, the pasta is the carrier of it all. And you can make it in small pieces so that children will eat it."
When Chef Lidia appeared on "Salon Talks," she also revealed the secret to elevating bolognese sauce at home:
Bolognese is a sauce of two or three different kinds of ground meat. And usually it's the muscles — the tough part. And it's one way of really tenderizing it, and making it delicious and then dressing a lot of pasta with it.
The question of a good bolognese is the steps: the onions, the soffriggere, the little bit of carrots, little bay leaves, rosemary, cloves and so on down the line. You build the layers. And the slow cooking — two and a half hours, three hours for a good bolognese until the meat has sort of given all. And you'll have this kind of velvety sauce and these morsels of delicious meat. That used to be Sunday for us, and it was delicious.
"The peach Bellini is a classic drink that you cannot miss when in Venice. It's simply prosecco with the addition of peach purée," Chef Lidia writes in "Felidia." "This version is a twist on the original recipe: at Felidia, we use peach sorbet to make an ice-cold drink that is welcome at any time of the year."
"At Felidia, we serve several different versions of tiramisù," Lidia writes in her her cookbook. "This version, with limoncello, is a bit higher in alcohol content and is inspired by the traditional delizia al limone that is so popular along the Amalfi Coast.
"Nutella is to Italians what peanut butter is to Americans. It is incorporated into a lot of desserts such as crepes, cakes and much more. Many Italian children eat Nutella on toast in the morning before heading off to school. The chocolate-hazelnut combination is undeniably good and works really well in many desserts," Nicotra writes in the book. "Since the flavor is so pervasive in Italian sweets, it only made sense to use it in a dessert that would have typically been made with just chocolate. Lidia is not an avid fan of chocolate desserts, but I won her over with this take on flan."